Frank Soto was visiting a nursing home four years ago during his campaign to become Bensenville’s village president. There, he met a man in his 40s — about Soto’s age — who used a wheelchair and had limited mobility in his arms.
After he won the election, Soto again saw the man as his two young sons wheeled him up the sidewalk during a family visit. All three wore White Sox jackets.
Soto spoke with the family, sharing their mutual love of sports.
“I just had this feeling of how unfortunate circumstances are for some people,” Soto said. “Here I get to coach my sons in sports and be part of their everyday lives and, after that, I thought, ‘There must be something we could do to reach out.’”
Ultimately, Soto secured from a Wheaton law firm a donation of club-level White Sox tickets for the family and persuaded a local ambulance company to provide transportation to the game.
The outing was a success, and Soto said he didn’t want it to be an isolated gesture.
“Many companies make donations, and I thought maybe we could coordinate resources and have a program for people who are disabled or seniors with limited incomes,” he said. “Those tickets were a small gesture for the law firm, which holds season tickets, but for that man and his family, it was a big deal.”
Soon he formed a senior advisory council and the group created Golden Wishes, a program launched early this year. Borrowing the concept of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants grand wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions, organizers tweaked the idea for local needs.
In Bensenville, Golden Wishes accepts wish submissions from local seniors and disabled residents — asking for things people often take for granted — and tries to make them come true.
The fairies that bring these wishes to life are local residents and businesses who donate money or services.
“That’s the neat thing about this program is we just don’t go buy these tickets to a ballgame or whatever the wish may be,” said Bensenville Trustee JoEllen Ridder, who has been involved with Golden Wishes since its inception. “We get other people involved in paying forward to our seniors, so that the whole village is involved together in making this wish come true.”
When the program started last winter, council members distributed wish applications to such places as schools, senior living facility Castle Towers, and Bridgeway Christian Village, which offers independent living, assisted living and skilled nursing care.
By summer, the requests came in: A World War II veteran sought an honor flight. Castle Towers asked for a large-screen projector that all residents could use in the dining room.
At Bridgeway, several residents asked for an elevated planter so they could garden without bending over. Trustee Bob Jarecki built the planters and then members of the senior advisory council delivered them and helped the residents plant.
Some requests were small, but emotional. Resident Catherine Padilla requested a pet bed, retractable leash and dog treats for her new Yorkshire terrier puppy.
“This little Yorkie will mend my broken heart, and I am very low on funds, and I need these items to have him,” she said in her application.
Others were fanciful, like a hot-air balloon ride the village plans to grant soon.
Elizabeth Madland and her son, George, were matched with couple Laurie and Jim Collins — both duos had requested to attend a Chicago Bears game. Golden Wishes secured ticket donations from local residents and fancied up the outing a bit, too, thanks to some extra donations.
“They gave us the royal treatment with a limo and Champagne. It was just wonderful, and I was so impressed,” said Elizabeth Madland, who lives at Bridgeway. “I just said I’d like to see a live Bears game with my son before I die.”
Bensenville leaders say they’d like to continue Golden Wishes indefinitely, especially as they build relationships with area donors. The program grants wishes quarterly, and Ridder said this schedule will likely continue.
“I see this going forward as long as we are receiving wishes,” she said.
And after her trip to see the Bears play, Madland said the program is a valuable experience for anyone lucky enough to participate.
“You’re thankful that someone has that kind of consideration for you,” she said.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.